27 October 2014

Girl Who Cycles the World: Shirine

"Anyone can follow their dreams, us girls included!" Shirine
At twenty years old I decided I was going to cycle around the world alone. Having been raised in a hippy Oregonian town in the United States, I never thought twice about the fact that as a women I was setting out to do what so many believe is impossible. I have always loved to travel, and having already spent an amazing year (at eighteen) backpacking alone through South America, I really didn't consider this next adventure to be all that crazy. I never thought twice about being at a disadvantage because of my gender because I was raised in a family and by a community that valued me just as much as they valued my brother. Gender had never been an issue for me so I had never given it much thought, I'm one of the lucky few who grew up reaping the benefits of the previous feminist movements before me and therefore grew up knowing without a doubt that I'm equal in every way to my male peers.

But then I spent six months cycling alone through India and my world was torn open in a painful yet insightful way. I couldn't stop to eat in some parts of the country because when I did, I would be surrounded by every single man in the village starring leeringly at me. I was grabbed multiple times as I quietly made my way down the road, and more than once men tried to push me down a ditch while I was cycling because they wanted to have their way with me. Men handed me porn asking for naked photos of me (because every white women in their mind is a porn star), men yelled "I want to fuck you" as I walked by, and worst of all, men considered me inherently inferior just because I was born with boobs instead of a penis. Of course, there are wonderful people in India, and there is a slowly growing movement for women's rights as well, but as a whole, India is one of the worst countries in the world for women - not just due to the constant rape and abuse - but because so many men, and even many women, truly believe they are inferior because they have been told so from birth.

Most of the women in India thought I was crazy - not just in the "oh wow that's a great adventure" - sort of way, but in a "what are you doing, this is not your place as a women." I was asked by every single women I encountered if I had run away, because they couldn't imagine a farther or husband allowing me to walk around alone, and they often couldn't get their mind around the fact that I didn't have a husband or father "controlling" me at all. I never felt unequal because I know that I'm not. I never felt that what I was doing was wrong, because I know it wasn't. But what about all of the girls who grow up believing they are inferior? What about the millions of girls who truthfully believe that rape, abuse, or unequal treatment of any kind is ok, because they have never been taught otherwise? 

I hope that every single girl or women reading this knows that they are equal in every single way to men. I hope that all of you realize that no matter how others treat you, what others say, or what your community wants you to believe, you are an amazing human being who deserves to be recognized and not just pushed to the side. As a women you can do anything, you can become a doctor, a teacher, a housewife, or, like me, you can cycle around the world all by yourself. This isn't a one sided fight though. This isn't about being superior to men, or hating men, or even disgracing men in anyway, it's about working with men to be considered their equals just as we need to consider them our equals as well. It's about someday having every singe man and women on this planet realize that we all deserve the same respect and kindness not matter who we are, or where we are born

This women kept me safe one night when I slept in a small roadside slum. The men were drunk and abusive, so the women kept out of their way and helped me do so as well. These women work all day alongside the men breaking large rocks into smaller stones on some of the worst roads in the world, yet when they come home exhausted, they are still expected to cook, clean, and fake cars of the children while the men wander around doing whatever they please. Even though they do all of the work, they get no respect whatsoever.

I stayed with these children and their parents for two weeks in a very small rural Indian village in the hills. I loved this family, especially the wife, as she was funny, happy, and an amazing mother. She had a supportive and loving husband who worked hard to provide for the family and let his wife run the house as she saw fit. Her children, these two kids below, were some of the most respectful and smart children I met throughout my stay in India because they had parents who taught them that everyone is equal.

This was a lovely women I stayed with in Spiti Valley, a high altitude Tibetan Buddhist region in northern India which I loved. Here the women are considered equal to their male counterparts, and do most of the work both around the house, in the fields, and with the animals. They are well respected and I enjoyed being with them because I was never treated as an inferior.

I loved the women throughout India and Nepal because they were fun, lively, and strong willed even though their husbands may not know it.


Check out more of my adventures:
Blog: awanderingphoto.wordpress.com
Twitter: @awanderingphoto


Anonymous said...

Hi, Its very nice that you are travelling around the world in your bicycle.. I'm from India and I lived there for more than 30 years of my life.. I have travelled the length and breath of the country, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends! I have never been treated inferior.. Don't ripe apart a county just by staying there for 6 months. I have no clue which part of the country you travelled but by and large white skin people are never treated as porn star in India, they are mostly considered as rich people.

And I have living in the US for 2 years, travelled 23 states there, frankly the amount of fear people have to walk around the streets after 6 pm is way more than what it can be in any part in India!

Anyway all the best for your journey.

Iza said...

Dear Anonymous,

Please take into account that this is one person's very subjective experience with no intentions to make sweeping statements about how people are in India or Nepal. It's about how Shirine felt during her journey. Also, very often we are more perceptive to denounce certain cultural traits exactly because we stumble upon them someplace away from the terrain we have been socialized in and, therefore, perceive as "normal", exactly as in Shirine's post or in your comparison between US and India.

Best, IHBG.

Shirine said...

I'm glad you don't feel like you have been treated as an inferior, but during my stay I constantly was. And yes, in many northern regions women are viewed as porn stars, something countless men showed me from how they acted, but also man well educated men (Indian) who comment and read my blog have told me this as well. Just by looking at stats, rape, harassment, and living standards for women.. India is indeed one of the worst places in the world. I am very glad you don't have to experience this on a daily basis as I did, or as so many of your fellow Indian women do, hopefully someday everyone will feel safe and comfortable with who they are when we reach true equality. I have met many other travelers, as well as locals, with whom I have discussesd this issue with immensely, and though of course everyone has their different opinions, I can definitely tell you I'm not the only one who feels this way there! That being said, of course America doesn't have true equality either, but at least there I feel comfortable being a women and have never been degraded or harassed or asked for porn over and over like in India.